You have no items in your cart. Want to get some nice things?Go shopping
I spend the evening watching birds kill other birds in the trees that overlook the garden like some gladiatorial show, but self-contained: they’re unaware I’m down here on the patio looking up at them. I can see whenever a body drops silently against the fading light and the feathers that plume up above the branches. I can hear the rustling, the snapping and drawn-out wails that I never thought a bird could make, and I cross my legs, check my phone – a vintage model, the kind with a touch screen I bought in an auction bar on The Nile for five times the asking price – and sip lemonade. The bloodbath usually goes on until sundown and by now most of them are either wiped out or unable to move from their nests due to the toxins so I get up and start work in the studio.
I have designs to complete, I have calls I’m waiting for, I have a piece to write on The Exorcist for the 75th anniversary reissue. The show is three weeks next Tuesday and I’m sick to shit of press junkets, interviews, people asking me what’s coming next in “the most controversial clothing range of the 21st century”, which one of my sons will be modelling this time and where my wife is in all of this. There’s always someone at the gates sneaking around: protestors/journalists/fans. And the guy who delivers the magazines every week tries to engage me in some sort of conversation, tells me about his ambitions in the industry. I haven’t got any motivation for this anymore.
I’m getting a call and it’s Harry so I have to answer.
“I wish you hadn’t bought that phone,” he says and I pace around. “I have to use a 14-digit code on the monitor to let me call you on it.”
“You say this every time,” I say.
“I had to get David from PR to tell me how to do it! And just because retro’s back in fashion.”
“Retro has always been in fashion.”
“And you know how fucked up the world is because of those things?”
“And what they do to your eyes as well.”
I find it kind of funny the way he can’t do this stuff, but I don’t laugh.
“Why did you call, Harry?”
“There’s an interview for the Guardian you should probably do in ten minutes. I would have called earlier but, you know, I had to get the code and everything.”
“Ten minutes? What kind of thing?”
“Just about the show next month and a bit of background. Nothing any different.”
“Alright, but no more until Wednesday. I have to get those designs finished I was telling you about in London.”
“I’ll try,” he says. “Oh, and the girl wants to do it on Face-screen.”
“Fuck, you know I hate that thing.”
“It’s easier, Georgie. It’s just how things are done these days.”
“Uh-huh. Okay, talk later then.”
I was going to continue working on those preliminary sketches I had begun yesterday but I walk instead through the white-walled studio doorway and into the kitchen, decked-out in a moss green carpet and wood-panelled appliances. So spacious and so cool. I get wine from the refrigerator in one of those pre-sealed glasses that were left over from a party last week. I peel the top off and sip, walking now through the hall and into the only room in the house to have Face-screen set up: Sarah’s ground floor bedroom.
It’s empty and clean and the bed hasn’t been slept in for at least two months so I turn up the dimmer switch and sit cross legged on the duvet facing the screen, drinking the wine, waiting for the interviewer to call. It’s almost 8pm. I don’t have any pets.
“So just explain, in as many words as you like, how you got into the industry Mr Wyvern.”
“Please call my George,” I tell the youngish-looking girl in a grey workshirt on the 70 inch screen and shift back a bit, taking care not fall backwards off the bed.
She’s trying to be sweet and polite and I kind of like it. I like the way her mouth is a small and obvious line, lips pursed into a soft smile when she isn’t speaking, and eyes are just a bit wider than what is generally considered a normal size.
“Well, coming out of art college in the twenty-tens I managed to get a job doing costume sketches for horror films. If you’ll remember there was a resurgence of the kind of exploitation films popular in the eighties, and so I was working on projects like 30,000 Eyeballs, The Edge of Hell, Wolf Kill, Damaged Goods. That kind of thing. It didn’t pay much. I guess it was kind of like an internship because I was working for a specific company, you know? I was given character details, full-body shots of the actors, and I would spend a few hours working with Wardrobe and coming up with these costume designs. You ever see 30,000?”
“I don’t think so, no,” the girl shakes her head. “I don’t really go in for horror.”
“Well there’s this character, I think they wanted him to look like Charles Manson, who basically gouges out the eyeballs of his victims – I’m guessing there were 15,000 victims by the time he’s caught – and with him I started to develop an individual style, sort of based on what Gaga was doing at the time, but sort of not.”
I’ve given these answers almost word for word in an interview I did the week before but I keep talking, putting on an air of spontaneity, adding pauses, pretending to think. The girl, I think her name is Ellen, nods and writes notes. I’m tired.
“And I mean I’m 40,” I say, reaching up to comb the back of my hair with my fingers. “This show is a milestone for me. Obviously I won’t stop designing clothes, but in a way it’s a miniature culmination of the last ten years. A greatest hits but with a few bonus tracks.”
“And can you say anything about the kind of thing you’ll be showcasing?” she asks and leans in a little closer.
“Well I’m afraid I can’t tell you a lot, but the majority of the designs are completed and the skin donors are being shipped in from Canada.”
“And how does it make you feel, Mr Wyvern, to be working with these kinds of materials? To know that the skin that makes your gloves, your dresses, hats, coats – it’s all come from bodies that were once living?”
“These people gave their permission…”
“I mean, isn’t it all a bit unnatural?” she cuts me off, looking down at the notepad presumably balanced on her knees. “A bit disrespectful even, to be mutilating human remains in this way?”
“Mutilation implies disfigurement. I use skin and bone as creative materials. Call it recycling, call it repurposing even.”
“Some people would call it debased. They call you a monster, a true-to-life Dr Frankenstein. Protestors compare you to the Wisconsin serial killer Ed Gein.”
“And others call me a revolutionary.” I swing my legs off the bed and stand. “I’ve defended my art in hundreds of interviews before this, Ellen. If you’re simply going to ask the same questions you’d be better off going away and reading the answers I’ve already given instead of wasting my time.”
“What about your wife? Your family?”
I leave, flicking the switch as the door closes behind me.
That was shorter than most interviews. I get another wine and descend into the basement to look at skins. It grows colder as I near the bottom and the sensors trip the lights after a delay of five seconds. Ed Gein, the Plainfield Ghoul: I find it unsettling the girl brought him up. He was the one who was there in my mind 20 years ago as I froze sheep eyeballs in a caravan. I would have them encased in plastic globes and string them into makeshift jewellery for the 30,000 character to wear or leave under the pillows of women with red dresses. I never mention him in interviews because it’s weird – admitting a serial killer inspired a whole fashion trend. And the Frankenstein comparison – I did literature at school. Even I know that he stole his materials. Plus his ambitions were different – I’m just trying to make clothes.
The lights show the glass-cased wall, lengthening the shadows behind the mounted gloves, the fingers elongated into claws. The gloves themselves glow beautifully, translucent and veined against the white panelling. Along the top runs a metal bar on which strips of forearm skin hang in colour order, from bleached albino to the darkest black, with oranges in the middle, salmon pinks and earthy browns to the sides. I have the entire range to consider, though some are rarer than others. They’re like carpet samples. I don’t know. There are days when I’m disgusted with myself. There was once a week where I threw it all away, cleared my desk, locked up my sketches. I was back at work almost immediately.
There isn’t any construction work being done on the house. Which is why I stop to listen to the clangs, as of metal hammering metal, that have started from outside. They’re consistent and strong and I move quickly towards the staircase, knocking the wineglass from the surface, watching for a drawn-out second as it falls and separates from the base with a dull ringing. I climb up and into the hall, the clanging growing louder as I reach the front door. It opens and I walk out in dressing gown and jeans to stand and stare at the group of people outside the iron gates at the end of the drive, one man beating a rung steadily with a long metal pipe. He’s a skinny sort of guy in a black turtleneck, but the way he looks up at the house, the way he grips the pipe as a baseball player holds his bat, is almost dangerous. Surrounding him are men and women in similar black apparel: boots, trousers, shirtless sleeves. They’re protesting something.
“The police can be here in five minutes!” I shout from my position and move to go back inside, but a voice from the group pulls me back.
It’s Sarah, her face white and taut, pushing herself through to the front. I walk closer.
“You let me in, George. I need to talk. They’ve promised not to do anything.”
“Tell that to the man with the pipe.”
She’s wearing her faux-leather jacket, lapels jutting out towards her ears, and that navy blue skirt I’d had designed for her as a birthday present, each fold separated into sections like the fronds of a fern. She’s still beautiful and I let her in, looking silently at the group of men and women as they hiss and growl like some demented pack of bears. I’ve seen several of them before at my gates, but this time they’re without signs. “Let the dead rest,” one of them whispers from the back as I remove the padlock.
Sarah nods at me and slips in through the small gap I make for her. She seems relieved.
Up at the house she refuses any drink I offer her and perches on an armrest in the sitting room. Her cheeks are drawn in and the lines around her eyes have nearly doubled since we last saw each other.
“They found out where I live and I invited them in,” she says quickly, as if wanting to get the justifications out of the way.
“They’re like fucking animals, Sarah,” I say. “They’re at my gates twice a week throwing bags of blood on the begonias. There’s got to be a better cause to protest than a fashion show for god’s sake. I mean, all I’m doing is making clothes. What about those new cancer treatments the NHS are offering?”
“It’s important to them,” she says and the words come out in an offhand sort of way. “And it’s important to me as well. I didn’t say anything when it was just us, and you know as well as I do that the divorce wasn’t just about your career choices, but now you’re involving the children in this. Things are different.”
“They want to be involved; it’s not just what I think.”
“But having them wear everything at yours shows? It’s fundamentally immoral. They’re being violated, Georgie, and I won’t have them anywhere near your next one.”
“You’re overreacting again.”
“Am I? Am I really? I still can’t believe the organisers let them in. Sal isn’t even fifteen yet!”
I sit down in the armchair opposite and draw my leg up to let my chin rest on the knee.
“Have you even read any of the press since they’ve been modelling?” I ask.
“No, I haven’t.”
“Well all the fashion sites love it. Harry says the stories trend on The Nile at least every couple of days – apparently all the kids are getting their parents to buy the clothes for them.”
“That doesn’t change how I feel, George.”
“I saw a boy yesterday with a fedora from my Bone and Muscle range. He was wearing it in the supermarket! Come on,” I say. “You used to be alright with this.”
“But now it’s my children,” she looks at me hard. “Now this stuff is touching the boys I’ve raised all my life.”
“Think of it…”
“There’s a reason I came with those people,” she says, cutting me off. “And yes, you could easily call it blackmail, but that’s what I’ve had to resort to. All you need to do is tell them they can’t go. They look up to you now.”
“It’s up to them whether or not they continue to participate,” I say and put my foot back down on the floor.
I wake to the most godawful smell and my arms feel twisted, wrenched into a painful angle behind my neck, with a sharp band digging into my wrists, back and ankles. My whole body is cold. I’m against an oak tree: the same oak tree I can see from the garden. If I lift my head up the roof of the house is just visible over the wild line of hedges in the foreground, and surrounding me are the empty acres of park, home to deer and birds. A thin mist moves slowly in the distance and the sky pushes a pale edge up from the horizon as the sun rises.
There’s no one else; I’m tied like a captive waiting for the torturer. I drop my head and the smell worsens, my chin coming to rest on a spongey layer of something almost frozen. Flecks of ice melt on skin. Jeans are soaked through; water drips down through the material, though now it’s hard to feel anything as the soft wind numbs at my feet. I jerk my ankles to the side and stare down at the blood now running down my bare legs. The strips of meat attached to my chest weigh me down and I hang forward slightly, unable to stand, held up by the plastic tie digging into my wrists. I’m reminded of a scene in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre where a woman is placed on a meat-hook and left to squirm. A bird lands hard on my shoulder, sick oily feathers brushing my neck, and begins to peck jerkily at a meat strip. I swing my head round in an attempt to knock it away and it flies off with a cry.
I buckle as a beak drills deep into my chest, and then another. The wrist straps tighten.